Peter Ling (and Derrick Sherwin for episode 1)
Directed by David Maloney
The other day a man in Cleveland was eating reconstituted cow anus on his lawn when he heard a woman screaming from the house next door. Hurrying over there, he found the door locked and, having kicked in the door, three missing women inside, along with a small child. This event is of a very rare type, where what has actually happened in the real world becomes so surreal and odd that its feels like the fictional world is seeping into reality. This feeling was only exacerbated by the fact that the cow anus consuming man in question, Charles Ramsay, turned out to be a fucking legend, and they type of person who hardly ever exists outside of fiction: he is able to be simultaneously goofy while giving an actually coherent and cogent account of quite harrowing events. Its important to hold onto the reality of events like these, as their often at heart quite horrific: the last time one happened it ended in the death of Raoul Moat. The most bizarre and tragic of them all ended in the tragic massacre of 76 people. Its perhaps that tragedy that makes them so hard to comprehend as real events, making it even more important to try and do so.
It’s extremely rare that a work of fiction can cross that divide and end up in the unsettling and surreal territory between fiction and the actual world. It takes the skill of a truly great writer, backed up by a first rate creative team to make it into an actual show. Along with The Invisibles, 4, and a few others, The Mind Robber is one of the few works of fiction that inhabit that intangible and incomprehensible territory just outside of space.
The first episode is not part of the story proper, as such. The Dominators ended up losing an episode, coming in at 5 parts rather than 6, but spent all its budget anyway. The producers had to create a whole episode for basically nothing. There are many decisions of Derrick Sherwin’s that I regard as dreadful (more on them to come), but all the episodes he actually wrote are top notch, and somehow this is no exception. Using only the core cast and crew, the TARDIS interior, an empty room, and a few extras in costumes from later in the story, he managed to create something with real tension. The last time the show was in this position led to The Edge of Destruction, one of the show’s all time classic stories. The Mind Robber: Part 1 has a far more experimental feel to it, an avant-garde take on expressionism which could easily get lost up its own ass, but has just enough story to keep it in place.
But that’s just the precursor to the main event. Much like current Who writer Neil Gaiman’s masterwork, Sandman, the Mind Robber is a story about stories. It explores the creative process and its importance in a wonderfully experimental way, all on prime time popular television. And with one of the finest casts ever assembled. What more could you possibly ask for?
There are, of course, many people who prefer things to be straightforward, with the good guys fighting the bad guys and none of the poncing around. Which is all well and good when its well done. Next up, we get exactly that, in The Invasion.